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Santeria was introduced in Cuba along with the huge migrations of African slaves, especially the ones of congo, carabalí, and yoruba origin, whose beliefs mixed with the mandatory Christian religions of the Spanish Crown. Today, this syncretism is part of the Cuban people's cultural heritage and it's present in different literary and aesthetic ways of expression. It appears to be the Cuban result of the integration and cultural continuity of ethnic and religious elements of Spanish and African participants. Worships to Orishas or other African deities, mainly Yoruba, are still alive under worships to images of catholic saints. Along with Santeria, other elements were introduced such as the myths, legends, traditions, chants, dances, recipes, and rituals that make up the Cuban culture nowadays. Apart from the well-known cult to the Orishas or "Regla de Ocha", Africans brought to Cuba a new way of religious organization: the Secret Abakúa Society (developed near the harbor and the piers, particularly in Havana, Matanzas and Cárdenas, in the Northern coast of Western Cuba, integrated only by men), the only one of its type in America, representing a common phenomenon in Western Africa. Another one was "Las firmas de los santos en el Palo Monte" or "Regla Conga", a religious cult of Bantú origin practiced in the Island. Among the Abakúas, there are a series of organizing characteristics and they consist of small groups called "juegos" o "potencias". Solidarity is requested among the players (ekobios) of each "juego", as well as the rivalry among different "juegos" which have developed bloody events. To the Abakúa or "Ñáñigo", the sense of honor manifests itself as manliness. It's a society of mutual help, first developed among the ancient "cabildos de nación"(societies that kept alive African languages, traditions and beliefs), among the slaves, then black Creoles were involved, and later the mulattos, whites, and even Chinese. Palo Monte covers numerous liturgies: "mayombe" (it gathers the ones who work with the Dead); the "kimbisa" or "embisa" (it gathers the ones that make the beverages devoted to healing sicknesses); the "kinfuiti" (whose job is to cry after the Dead) and the "briyumba" (which covers everything). Santeria includes different levels of initiation and priestly categories. Among the best known are the "babaloshas" and "iyaloshas", known in the island as "santeros" and "santeras" An important place is occupied by the "awuses" or "babalawos" (a Yoruba word etymologically coming from "baba" «father» and "awó" «secret»). In Cuba, there are other intermediate diverse categories which require an uncalculated knowledge and an artistic talent for their cult, such as the "alú batá" or "tamboleros", responsible for interpreting the Orishas' ritual music. They use three drums for the ceremony: the "iyá" (the biggest), the "itótele", and the third one is the "okónkolo" (the smallest).

The "ilé-ocha" of santería is the so called "toque de santo", in whose ceremonies there could be different functions: that of initiation, that of presentation of the drum, that of birthday, that of funeral or the day of the catholic saint, as well as the parties for "having fun" with the saints which are the "toques de güiro" (abwe or cekeré). No "santero" (a person practicing santeria) can be initiated if not baptized by the Catholic Church, although during his life as "santero" he'll respond to the "Regla de Ocha". Every September 8, in the ultramarine town of Regla, in Havana, ceremonies are held so that the sons of Yemeyá pay tribute to the Virgin of Regla. Other celebrations in Cuba are that of Saint Barbara, on December 4, and that of Babalú-ayé (Saint Lázaro), on December 17. Although private, the majority of the ceremonies can be visited by anyone, so if you are strolling around Havana, Matanzas, or Santiago de Cuba in the afternoon and you hear the drums playing, follow the sound and drop by the "solar" (tenement building) because, for sure, you'll find someone "haciéndose santo" (becoming a satero).

This introduction to Santeria in Cuba was written by a Cuba travel expert from Cuba For Less, a specialist in fully customizable Cuba vacations.

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